Your language learning journey has started. You grasp quite a bit of French now.
Do you feel like you are sort of stagnating?
Aren’t you progressing as fast as you wish?
That’s got to be one of the most frustrating situation, especially when you do put so much time and effort into it! It’s what we call “reaching a plateau”.
Unfortunately, it’s not abnormal and many languages learners get to that point and get so discouraged by it that they actually give up and never reach their goal of becoming fluent in French. Don’t let this happen to you!
In this article, I will explain to you why you’ve actually reached a plateau and I will give you some solutions to make more progress in French.
1) Why have you reached a plateau?
Many pieces of research have been made on this matter.
It comes out that that learning in general (not just languages) is not a linear progression but more of a bumpy ride!
What do I mean by this?
Well, basically, you will go through phases where you will make progress and others where you won’t make as much. Your brain will retain and stock all your learning though.
According to Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and Professor at Florida State University, reaching a plateau is totally normal. It is part of the learning process.
Ok, but why?
According to many experts, it appears we reach a plateau because of routine! (routine kills everything as it seems…). We tend to do the same type of exercises, we practice in the same way rather than innovating in our learning experience and differentiating our learning methods and material. Is it the case for you?
Why do some people succeed better than others at learning languages?
According to Dr. Ericsson, people who succeed the most follow the same three stages learning pattern. They focus on their technique, they stay goal-oriented and they get constant and immediate feedback. You could record and listen to yourself speaking French for example.
When shall I vary my learning methods and material to stop getting into that naughty routine? In other words, how can I focus on and improve my technique?
Have you ever heard of Luca Lampariello? He is an amazing polyglot who speaks 12 languages (is that it?!…). He was interviewed by Lingholic who asked him how he dealt with this “reaching a plateau” issue. His answer was simple: he never felt like he reached one.
Simply because he always kept in mind the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Have you ever heard of it?
If not, I would advise you to have a quick glance at it. According to Lampariello, it is vital to change your learning material when you reach the intermediate level.
As it seems, practice doesn’t make perfect but evolving practice does!
2) Solutions to make progress in French
Like I said previously, you need to vary your learning methods and material. Fine but what are the different methods and material out there? Let’s check them out!
It is important that you find out which out of the eight learning styles best suits your needs. What I mean by this is that you should know how you learn best.
- Do you know?
- Is it when you read and write?
- When you use logic?
- When you use visuals?
- When you listen?
- When you practice with your hands or act?
- When you learn in a group?
- Or on the contrary, when you learn on your own?
Maybe it’s when you combine one or more of these learning styles?
Whichever style it is, knowing it will help you make progress. I would advise you to stick to your favorite learning style when you first start learning French as this will give you confidence and make you feel safe.
However, to stop you falling into that vicious learning routine, it is essential that once you’ve reached a certain level, probably the intermediate one (cf the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), you either switch to a different learning style or at least mix yours with another one.
This seems to be my answer to many language learning difficulties but I strongly do believe that immersing yourself is an absolute key factor.
Would you agree?
It leads to successfully become fluent in any language. What can you do to immerse yourself when you don’t actually live in France or in a French-speaking country though? Don’t panic, there are so many different ways!
You could get yourself a French penpal. Not only will you make progress in the French language itself, you will also learn many different aspects of the French culture, grasp more slangy phrases and make yourself a new friend, and not any type of friends but a French one!
Don’t you know how and where to find a French penpal? No worries, check my article entitled “How can I easily find people to practice speaking and writing online”.
You could also watch films and series in French with French subtitles. Why French subtitles you may ask? It’s because this enables you to associate the written and the spoken form.
Indeed you might not understand a word when you hear it (maybe because of the person’s accent or diction, maybe because of the speed or simply because you don’t know how that particular word is pronounced) but when you actually read it, you might know it and think “ Ah, right! I know that word but I never knew that was how it should be pronounced!”.
At first, you might understand next to nothing but it is absolutely normal (even if it’s rather annoying, I’ll give you that). You will slowly (but surely) learn more and more vocabulary and grammar structures and you’ll end up understanding more and more conversations. You could maybe start with watching films you have already seen. Watching the news is also very interesting as you will already know what the events are. France 24 and TV5 Monde are good international channels.
If you’re not too keen on watching films, you could read. In fact, my dad learned quite a lot of French expressions and grammatical structures through reading the local newspapers! Get a French version of your favorite book and get stuck in! There are also some bilingual books: on one page you have the French version and on the other one you have the English (or any language you want) one.
It can be quite useful if you don’t want to constantly put your book down to look a word up in your dictionary. Keep in mind though that the most important thing is not to understand every single word you read but to understand the general gist of the sentence. Nothing worse than having to stop reading every two seconds as you would lose the flow of the story.
Listening to the radio has the same benefits.
I know this last one might sound a bit weird and it isn’t for everyone but I have found that some of my students made quite a lot of progress through … online gaming! If you’re into the X-Box and the PlayStation games then don’t hesitate to play online with French players. No doubt, you’ll learn some very idiomatic expressions!
Learning a language is a fabulous yet challenging adventure. You will get times when you’ll love it and others when you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t! Set yourself short goals and always remember them. When you reach a plateau in your learning, or when you reach a different level shall I say, try and vary your learning methods and material.
Learning a language should be fun and enjoyable not boring and unattractive. Use different mediums, practice in different ways but most of all enjoy yourself and take pleasure in learning French. Then you will make substantial progress!